Ileana Valdez: technology, teaching and creating traditions at Pauli Murray

Ileana Valdez
Ileana Valdez

Last spring, when college students found themselves isolated in quarantine, Ileana Valdez made a light-hearted offer to create a digital tool matching singles for blind dates or conversation. It quickly blew up into a full-fledged dating app, OKZoomer, which was featured in Rolling Stone and other national media. It now has 30,000 registrants.

For Valdez, the experience revealed the “beautiful potential for using technology for social relationships nowadays.” “Our research shows that people in my generation especially are very open to online-first relationships,” said Valdez, a computer science (CS) major from Red Oak, Texas, who launched the venture with fellow Yale CS major Patrycja Gorsk, and her brother Jorge Valdez, also a computer scientist.

During her time at Yale, she has encouraged others to discover the power of technology. 

Inspired by her mother, a teacher, Valdez dedicated herself to “learning by teaching” both on and off campus. She led weekly sessions in New Haven public schools as a Yale community health educator. She also taught coding and extolled the benefits of computer science careers to local middle school and high school students — mostly females and/or members of unrepresented minorities — through the non-profit groups She Code and Code Haven. 

As a first-generation American herself and a woman in a still-male-dominated field, Valdez said, she wanted draw on her own experience to give others new to the field a sense of confidence and belonging.

A group of Pauli Murray students.
Ileana Valdez (back center) with her Pauli Murray cohorts during Camp Yale 2017.

Valdez also tutored her fellow Yale students, encouraging them to stay in the CS major. She’s particularly proud, she said, of securing funding to send CS students to conferences, where they can meet prospective employers — a resource that will continue for the next six years.

Her residential college, Pauli Murray, was “brand-spanking new” when Valdez arrived as a first-year. And, as College Head Tina Lu said, she “has been a college stalwart from the beginning.” Since day one she’s had a voice in creating new spaces and college traditions. (Among her many activities there, she established and helped run the college buttery.)

After graduation, she will work for the content-sharing platform Dropbox. On the side, she plans to dedicate her free time to developing another start-up — whatever that might be.

My ideal future would be doing some social good through technology,” she said.

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